Battling Childhood Cancer

Natalee Hercik’s world was rocked in 2008. That’s when her three-year-old daughter Lilly was diagnosed with leukemia.

But just over two years later, Lilly joined the “cancer survivors” club when she took her last chemotherapy pill during a family trip to Disney World (arranged by Dream Come True).

“It was a tough two years,” Natalee recalls. “And it wasn’t a straight line of progress. We faced lots of challenges—‘speed bumps,’ we called them—along the way.”

Ten more years have passed, and Lilly is now a lively and healthy 15-year-old. “During the Covid lockdown, she’s taken over our kitchen,” Natalee laughs. “She’s made many dinners for us, and just bakes and bakes. She also takes virtual voice and piano lessons.”

But not all childhood-cancer patients are so lucky. Each day, 43 more kids are diagnosed; five of them will not survive the ordeal.

And that awareness helped drive Natalee into raising funds every year for CureSearch for Children’s Cancer,
a 501(c)3 non-profit foundation whose mission is to “end childhood cancer by driving targeted and innovative research with measurable results in an accelerated time frame.”

Although CureSearch (formerly known as the National Childhood Cancer Foundation) doesn’t enjoy the name recognition of, say, the American Cancer Society, it’s battled against childhood cancer research for 30 years.

In 2012, the Herciks, and other parents whose kids were in treatment at Lehigh Valley Health Network, formed a fundraising group. “We talked to people at LVHN and were led to CureSearch,” she said. “The foundation focuses on pediatric cancer and most of its funding actually goes to research. It also became privately funded that year—so we knew our efforts would have an impact.”

Team Lilly’s initial efforts were quite successful. Over the course of four years, its series of CureSearch walks raised over $250,000 for the foundation. But annual participation in the event began eroding, so finding another avenue appeared necessary.

Natalee’s father, William J. Moss III, was an avid golfer, and played regularly in the Met-Ed League (he’d worked over 30 years at the company) at the Green Pond country club in Easton.

In 2016, the otherwise-healthy Moss was stricken with anaplastic thyroid cancer (ATC), a very aggressive form of the disease that shows up in less than 2% of new thyroid cancer cases. The average survival rate is six months; just one in five patients is still alive after a year.

Bill Moss lasted four months.

Team Lilly decided to change the annual walk to a golf outing, and got a boost in its early days: Sports Illustrated.

First, a bit of context. Bethlehem resident and former SI writer/editor Jack McCallum regularly brought some of the editorial staff to Bethlehem Municipal golf course. It was nothing more than an enjoyable day on the links, and they nicknamed the event the “Christmas City Classic.”

Bill Moss connected with McCallum while the latter was writing his book, The Prostate Monologues: What Every Man Can Learn from My Humbling, Confusing, and Sometimes Comical Battle With Prostate Cancer. During their chats, McCallum learned about Lilly and her battles, and that Chris Hercik (Natalee’s husband) also worked at SI.

When “Christmas City Classic for a Cure” became the official name of Natalee’s fundraising group, McCallum helped jump-start the first outing by organizing various SI co-workers to form teams and lend their own cachet to the fledgling program.

The Classic has continued to grow each year; the 2019 edition raised over $18,000, which brought its cumulative take over the $50,000 mark. Funds are divided between CureSearch and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in honor of Bill Moss.

Although McCallum’s crew no longer participates, about eight of Bill’s golfing pals still come out each year.

Natalee’s event also has strong connections with the “Great White Shark” himself, pro golfer Greg Norman. In addition to winning more than 90 tournaments and holding the #1 position in world rankings for over 330 consecutive weeks, Norman has raised over $14 million for CureSearch and other charitable causes through his annual QBE Shootout.

“Every year, Greg invites a survivor family to the shootout to share their stories. We were chosen in 2016, and Lilly and her sister Grace spoke at the event dinner,” Natalee said. “Many of the pro golfers there later sent signed memorabilia for our auction and raffles. But Greg and his team went over the top: they sent wine, signed items, and VIP tickets to the QBE Shootout—even a video message to share with our golfers! His support of our outing as well as CureSearch continues year after year.”

Plans for the 2020 outing were well underway when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and Team Lilly continues to move forward. Registration (limited to 112 golfers) closes on September 4; the event itself is set for September 14 at Green Pond Country Club, with a check-in time of 8:00 a.m. Updated information will appear at Natalee added that you can make direct donations to Team Lilly at

Follow @LehighValleyMarketplace on Instagram